During the Civil War, African-Americans comprised twenty-five percent of the total naval force; not included in this statistic were five African-American women (Alice Kennedy, Sarah Kinno, Ellen Campbell, Betsy Young, and Dennis[e] Downs) who served as nurses aboard the Navy’s “first” hospital ship, USS Red Rover in 1863. Although only volunteers, it is remarkable to note that for over the next century these women would represent the Navy’s only black nurses.
On March 8, 1945, the longstanding barrier in the Navy was finally broken when a 25-year old New York-born nurse named Phyllis Mae Daley received a commission in the U.S. Navy Reserve. A graduate of Lincoln School of Nursing in New York and student of public health at Teachers College, Columbia University, Daley had previously been rejected from entering the Army Air Force. Determined to serve, Daley stated that she “knew the barriers were going to be broken down eventually and…felt the more applicants the better the chances would be for each person.”